Alumnae/i Feature

Joanne Wilson ’83 Wins Rappaport Alumnae Achievement Award

In her past role as an angel investor, Joanne Wilson ’83 was the first investor for 85% of the businesses she funded. “The reality is, you have to like the business, but you’re investing in the jockey, not the horse,” says Wilson. “Founders need tenacity, curiosity, and determination. I like to invest in people who are resilient. Entrepreneurs that can figure out if something isn’t working, can shift gears, and if something is working, can step on the gas.”

This July, the School of Business awarded Wilson the Phyllis Rappaport Alumnae Achievement Award, which is given every year to an alumna who has achieved career success and used their position to support others. Wilson, who studied retail management and finance at Simmons, embodies the spirit of the award with her focus on women- and minority-owned businesses. Though no longer supporting businesses through angel investing, Wilson has opted to be a limited partner in venture funds committed to investing only in women, Black, and Latino founders.

She also aims to promote the achievements of women. Wilson was co-founder of The Women’s Entrepreneurs Festival, which ran from 2010-2016. More recently, her interest was piqued by stories of twentieth-century businesswomen.

“Until the 1970s, women couldn’t get credit cards and couldn’t have a business in their own names,” explains Wilson. “They couldn’t get patents. Margaret Rudkin founded Pepperidge Farm in the 1940s, but nobody knows her name.”

I like to invest in people who are resilient. Entrepreneurs that can figure out if something isn’t working, can shift gears, and if something is working, can step on the gas.

Wilson researched businesswomen like Rudkin and Estée Lauder (born Josephine Esther Mentzer) and is working on a documentary or possible documentary series to share their stories: “These women made a tremendous impact on the economy and how we live our lives. It’s important for men, women, and particularly younger children to know about these pioneers. The narrative that men have been the leaders of everything in our history is far from the truth, and only with historical information do we change that narrative. Young women need to see these women as role models and say, ‘Wow, I can do that, too,’ because you can’t be it if you can’t see it.”

Recently, Wilson broke into the real estate market with Frame Home, a development company committed to using eco-friendly technology. “I was doing a lot of research on carbon-neutral buildings, using solar energy and passive house design,” says Wilson, referring to energy-efficient homes with passive natural ventilation. “Environmental impact should be important to everyone.”

Frame Home’s first rental property in Brooklyn opened in 2020. The next building under construction will be carbon neutral, with a ground floor framework offering workspaces or pods, perfect for remote working in the post-COVID era.

Wilson is also passionate about securing jobs for people released from incarceration, especially in light of the legalization of cannabis in New York State. “I’m working with organizations such as Strive to support people who were incarcerated and change the direction of their lives. I’m excited about the possibilities of cannabis licenses being granted in New York. We hope to secure a few dispensary licenses and make an impact by hiring previously incarcerated people, hiring people in public housing, profit sharing for everyone. In addition, we hope to give 20% of the IBITDA [income before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] to our public foundation, Gotham Gives, to support more organizations lifting up those who have been destroyed by our laws on drugs for no reason but to keep an entire population of mostly Black and Latino people in jail.”

...there are so many opportunities to try a variety of things over in that first post-college decade — you should take complete advantage of any interesting opportunities that come your way.

Her willingness to take business risks is inherent to Wilson’s personality. “[In college] I knew I had to rely on myself to earn a living, and I needed a job upon graduating, so I could take over the world,” she says. “The college experience gives you a different perspective, putting people together in a small community who come from a myriad of cultures and lifestyles. It offers insight into how others live and process things. Especially in a city like Boston, it can be extremely beneficial.”

She advises students to follow their hearts to find where they belong in the business world. “We are all capable of multiple things, but consider what you really like. Because of the startup system, there are so many opportunities to try a variety of things over in that first post-college decade — you should take complete advantage of any interesting opportunities that come your way.”

Through it all, Wilson’s priorities have been clear. “When I started in the working world and then moved into working for myself, I always put my family first. That was my guiding light,” she says. “I could work really hard and keep my brain challenged, but I was at every basketball game, every event, and at home to make dinner. That was a very wise decision because I was present in my kids' lives. The most important thing is your family and good friends.”

You May Also Like

Simmons University Main College Building's cupola with the Boston city skyline in the background

The Simmons World Challenge is about learning from an international perspective — but how do you learn internationally with the COVID-19 travel restrictions? Professor Kristina Pechulis and Samantha Margolin '23 tell us how students still learned global lessons.

Campus & Community
Headshot of Michelle Laflamme

Awarded annually by the Massachusetts School Library Association, Laflamme was selected for her passion for education and her desire to model the tenets of social justice, nurture cultural appreciation, promote quality information-seeking behavior.

Student Story